Indirect Influence: What in God’s Name

It’s been a little while since I read something funny, and I’ve missed it.

There’s been a lot of chick lit, romance and a bit of crime fiction on the reading pile, but not since If You’re Reading This I’m Already Dead have I read something quite as light-hearted as Simon Rich’s What in God’s Name (Allen and Unwin)…

From the Sunsets Department to Miracles, Heaven Inc. has the earth covered – unless, that is, someone is away from their desk. But these days, the CEO is kind of disillusioned. God knows he should be trying to stop terrible events happening on Earth, but he finds himself watching the church channels on satellite TV. His top priority is the team of angels he asked to get Lynyrd Skynyrd back together.

Meanwhile, Eliza has been promoted from the Prayers Department to Miracles, and Craig, the only other workaholic in Heaven, has to show her around. Eliza is shocked by the casual attitude of her new colleagues. And she’s furious when she discovers that God has never looked at, let alone answered, a single prayer. So she does something no one has ever dared to do before, and it could be the end of the world…

It’s a quick read, quirky and satirical. It’s also wonderfully clever. The story of Eliza and Craig is well-thought out. The tongue-in-cheek corporatisation of Heaven, complete with a disinterested, indulged CEO (i.e. God) is put together cleverly and the interactions between Heaven and Earth had me really engaged…

“He’d already completed several miracles this week and all of them were pretty cool.

In Portugal he broke a Ben and Jerry’s freezer, compelling the manager to give away his melting ice cream for free.

In Melbourne, he rigged an old man’s iPod to play the Beatles song “Birthday” over and over again – until he remembered to buy his wife a gift.

In Oxford, he anticipated that an elderly professor was about to refer to his only black student, Charles, as “Jamal.” He quickly short-circuited the fire alarm, emptying the classroom just in time.”

What makes it even more interesting is the need for miracles to be stealthy, leading to the particular cleverness of the story…

“‘We can only affect the lives of humans indirectly,’ Craig explained. ‘Through discreet, natural phenomena. We can cause electrical blackouts, make hail, use lightning. We can control the tides and trigger sneezes. We just can’t do anything that would let the humans know we’re here.'”

What in God’s Name is also terribly sweet. After calling God to account, one thing leads to another and before they know it, Eliza and Craig are looking down the barrel of Earth’s doomsday. That is, unless they can unite two young, awkward shut-ins for one single kiss.

While most of the angels are hanging up their wings for a welcome retirement, Craig and Eliza work on, hoping against hope that their breezes, coincidences and food poisonings will do the seemingly impossible.

For some reason, this book made me think a little of the classic, light-comedy movies of the eighties (a good thing) and a little of Tom Robbins (yes again, sorry) and quite randomly, a bit of The Simpson’s Playstation game (don’t ask, I’ve watched the boys play it far too much, obviously).

It’s fun, you’ll get through it in a flash and it’s well-worth adding to the ‘humour’ section of your book collection.

You can pick yourself up a copy of What in God’s Name at the TBYL Store, here…

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